When an author is deciding where to place a chapter break in a completed work, which is most important to you as a reader?
A writer has several new chapters of a fic ready to post. How should they do it?
A writer decides to go back and finally finish a WIP they've not touched in years. How should they refer to the earlier chapters?
One way to decide how to divide a long fic into chapters is, of course, to say "However much I've written today, I'll post it as a new chapter." However, speaking for myself I've been scared off writing WiPs due to my epic failures to complete them in any reasonable space of time, and having to deal with the feelings of guilt this brings. *g* So these days I try to finish the entire story before posting any of it - which means I then need to decide how to divide the story up into chapters.
Hence my first question, which is aimed at discovering how people see the function of chapters in a long story. Are they primarily there as a reader convenience to divide a long story into handy bite-sized chunks? Are chapter endings the equivalent of a bathroom break in a TV movie? Do you think to yourself, "Oh, I've got time to read a couple of chapters before I have to go and do some proper work?" Are you put off if you see a story posted as a single chapter of 6,000 words because it's too long to read, but if the same story was divided into three 2,000-word chapters you'd be more willing to start it? All of these would imply that it's word count that matters most to you.
On the other hand, do you feel that each chapter should be like an episode of a TV show, with a distinct plot, climax and resolution? Do you feel disappointed if a chapter just tails off at the end of a paragraph with a "click here to continue" link? Are you confused if a chapter deals with several different plot strands and characters, because you feel that each of these sub-plots should have been in its own separate (much smaller) chapter? Do you want each chapter to end on an exciting, scary or intruiging note that makes you eager to turn straight to the next one?
As a writer, my own instinct, naturally enough, is for the narrative to determine the chapter breaks. I want each section of the story to reach a natural stopping point - which might be a scene change, or a change in the POV character, or a time jump. It might involve a dramatic revelation, or an important decision by the protagonist, or a cliff-hanger. The thing is, it's easy to do that if you're writing a 2,500-word installment in a serial. It's harder if you've written 10,000 words and then realise that the natural scene breaks don't come after each 2,500 words, but after (for example) 3,000 words, 2,500 words, 400 words and 4,100 words respectively. Should I just shrug and post the story like that? Or is it important to make each chapter at least approximately in the same ballpark when it comes to length - in which case, maybe some of Chapter Four should be moved artificially into Chapter Three?
The second question is an interesting one. I can make several arguments in favour of posting each chapter spaced out over a long-ish period of time: it avoids cluttering up people's friends pages with a whole series of posts from the same person on the same day. It means that people who missed your initial posting are more likely to see you post a later chapter and follow the link back to your original post; and that those who skipped your initial posting due to lack of time get a nice reminder that the story exists. It gives people time to read and absorb each chapter before going on to the next.
On the other hand, I can imagine that some people might resent an author deliberately spacing out posting their story in this way as manipulative attention-seeking, and feel that posting it all straight away is more honest. Maybe? Or they might feel impatient because they finish each chapter and want the next one, knowing that it's already been written but the author is deliberately withholding it from them...
There's also the problem that if you post chapters one by one and give people opportunity to comment on each before posting the next, they might speculate or express opinions on the way the story is going that reflect badly on the chapters you've already written. *g* For example, "I really like the sexual tension you've built up between Fred and Jo; I hope they get together soon!" when your surprise twist in Chapter Four is that Fred gets run over by a bus and Jo is comforted by Nicky and they become lovers... Or even worse, "Normally I'd expect that Bill would be the secret jewel-thief, but your stories are always so clever and have such subtle twists in them. I can't wait to see who is really the thief!" when, of course, you fondly imagined that Bill being the thief would be a really shocking revelation...
The final question is of personal interest because of the epic fail I mentioned in my first paragraph. *g*. Normally, I'd say just include a link to Chapter One when you post Chapter Six, or whatever. But if the last time you updated the fic was several years ago, I'd say the chances of anyone having more than a vague memory of what happened in it are minimal. That means even your original readers, assuming they still cared, would probably have to go back and start from the beginning to remind themselves what happened. (Or not, which is why I included the 'Previously...' suggestion as well). New readers would definitely have to do that, of course. In which case, why not simply re-post the entire fic from the start?
Not to mention that my own feeling is, if you see a post in your flist saying "Chapter 6 of 9" and you don't remember reading the earlier chapters, you're not all that likely to want to jump into the middle of the story. Maybe I'm wrong, but that would be my own reaction. Sure, if it were a writer or subject you truly loved, then perhaps you'd be thinking "How could I have missed this?!" and diving back through the links or memories to Chapter One; but for a casual "Huh, this looks quite interesting, I'll give it a try" reader I think it would be off-putting. But then again, there's the risk that people seeing you re-post a fic from two years ago might wonder what you're playing at, or think you've got confused, or get annoyed because they want to go straight to the new chapters, not wait a week as you post each old chapter again once per day...